To Jack.


My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Dear Jack,

You don’t know me. But – like many people – I know you.

We’ve actually met, albeit in a professional capacity – you, speaking out on an issue you felt strongly about (as the exuberant leader of a political, party trying to make a dent in the political landscape); me, as a young ‘un in the TV news business, doing my job in getting your reaction to whatever story I happened to be helping with.

I remember once having to escort you to an interview. And as we strode down the hall (and I think using “stride” is appropriate; you weren’t a “walker”), I tried to engage you in small talk – pertinent to the subject which brought you to the building, of course. And you engaged me right back.

Whenever I remember that short encounter, I’ve always assumed you were just humouring me. Most of the guests I’ve had to handle or interview, do. But given all the things I’ve heard people say about you over the last five days, I’ve thought about that instance often, and I wondered if maybe you weren’t. Maybe you WERE actually talking TO me.

And on a handful of occasions, I was sent on assignments, to go to your news conferences and small scrums, and ask you questions. Even when you were just doing what you did best, you obliged, with that trademark energy, looking all of us dead in the eye with every answer. Every so often, I could have sworn I saw your eyes twinkle.

For the longest time, I seriously thought, that can’t be real all the timethat’s gotta be just showmanship.

Apparently it wasn’t. It was ALL you.

There was one time – possibly the last time, months and months ago – I got to interview you on a reporter’s behalf. Near the end, you asked me how much longer it would take; you had an appointment to get to. I was taken slightly aback, because it seemed a bit uncharacteristic. But you weren’t rude about it. I figured you had a function to get to.

Maybe it was just that. Or it was a foreshadowing of the personal battle that was to come.

I think my respect for you blossomed into full-blown admiration while watching you on the campaign trail this past April. It was hard NOT to watch you win over parts of Canada, one stump speech or walkabout at a time. And I’m sure the reporters following you loved getting the chance to do so.

And on election night, as I watched the results from home, I felt the goosebumps on my arms as history was made before my eyes. I actually couldn’t believe it! And I was genuinely happy for you, Olivia and your party. FINALLY.

You’ve been such a fixture, it’s difficult to comprehend that you physically are no longer here. I realize that death is a part of life. But it’s still surreal.

I know a lot of people – yourself included – did not believe your work was done.

But perhaps this was it. This was your two-fold masterpiece: to punch, not dent, a hole in the Canadian political establishment; and to inspire young people (by whom you were inspired) to answer the call to service that you answered a few decades ago.

What has personally moved me more than your contribution to federal politics, has been the number of anecdotes from people with whom you’ve worked, whom you’ve helped, or who you’ve taught.

I never had the chance to pay you my final respects at City Hall. I never got to leave my thoughts in chalk at Nathan Phillips Square. And sadly, I won’t get to witness your funeral in real time. As it happens, I’ll be at a wedding. (I’m sure you’d understand.) But I’m sure it’ll be big and grand, with many a tear shed, but also a few laughs and a lot of music.

And when the pomp and ceremony is over, when your ashes are spread, and when your family and friends get a chance to privately mourn and heal, I truly hope for a couple of things emerge from your passing:

First, that all of us who respect you and your vision pick up where you left off, and continue striving towards what you wanted – for this city, and for this country, in all sorts of ways. I know here in Toronto, the election of this present City Council has angered and energized people enough to take an interest in city affairs. I hope we can find a way to expand upon that.

Secondly, that in your death, we can see the lessons you left behind. You were a professor, right? Did you ever stop being one? Perhaps people already see that. At least, I hope that people see that. And I hope we can apply those lessons to our lives and the lives of those around us.

Goodbye, sir. I hope that wherever your spirit is now perched, it’s a good place.

And I hope we don’t let you down.

*Editorial cartoon, courtesy Patrick Corrigan, for the Toronto Star.

Oh, Egypt.

On a Saturday morning in October, 1981, my mother asked me to go get the newspaper for her.

According to what she said happened next, I apparently picked up the newspaper, looked at it, then asked:

“Mom … did you know Anwar Sadat was assassinated?”

I was four years old.

Officially, this became the day my mother realized I could read full, adult sentences.

But thinking about it now, it was also the day I unknowingly – and briefly – discovered Egyptian (or, perhaps more appropriately, Middle East) politics.

Of course, in my four-year-old world, “assassination” was just a word. I had NO clue the leader of a country half a world away had been killed the day before.

Or, that eight days later, some guy named Hosni Mubarak – then, an air force commander and Sadat’s vice-president – would be sworn in as president.

And now, 30 years later, it’s “some guy” that’s at the centre of a crisis the world has been watching with rapt attention for two and a half weeks.

It’s just the strangest feeling.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before this occurred – especially given the fact Tunisia had just ousted its own leader early this year.

But who would’ve guessed that on January 25th (coincidentally, my birthday), a nation famous for its ancient civilization – and perhaps infamous for its present-day lack of human rights, among other things – would break out into widespread protest?

Seeing and reading about those protestors gathered in the square day after day, astounds me.

But also watching images of injured people being stitched up and attended to at makeshift first aid centres … journalists being assaulted and jostled … and last week’s clashes between pro-government supporters and anti-Mubarak protestors … concerns and saddens me, even though it comes with the territory.

And through it all, still Mubarak remains – to me, appearing more stubborn than steadfast.

Perhaps folks thought that, like Tunisian president Ben Ali, Mubarak would see the writing on the wall, and run.

Instead, he’s opting to hold ’em, rather than fold ’em.

He’s offered his own kind of concessions, all of them piecemeal. Announcing he wouldn’t run for re-election. Dissolving his current government. Electing a vice-president for the first time since HE was vice-president 30 years ago, and asking someone else to form the new government. And so on.

And then, Thursday arrived.

This, protestors thought, would be the day Mubarak would take his leave, just like they’d prayed and protested for.

Networks showed images of a sea of people gathered in Tahrir Square as music blared, and a loud, excited buzz moved through the crowd.

Then, Mubarak took to the airwaves. For a moment, I also thought, FINALLY, Egyptians are getting the break they’ve asked for.

Instead, he spent roughly 10 minutes telling the temporarily hushed masses – and the world – the exact opposite.

The man was staying, handing off all but three of his duties to someone else in the “new” government.

Egyptians angrily waved their shoes at the news.

The rest of the world had a bit of a “WTF?” moment.

So, now what?

No one knows.

I can’t speak for other folks watching, listening and reading around the world … but I’m hoping for the best, while expecting something resembling the worst.

I hope I’m wrong.

But either way, I’ll be watching the with a mix of fascination at the history in the making … and the concern at what the situation could morph into.

I can only hope that, at the end of it all, the Egyptian people protesting in cities like Cairo and Alexandria get what they’re asking for – a better, freer life than the one they’ve come to know.

**Postscript: As of 11:03 ET – less than 12 hours after posting this – the Egyptian government announced that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, and power has temporarily been handed to the military. Will wonders never cease. What happens next, though, is up to Egypt.